Warren is avoiding the racial strife of Cincinnati bysitting down with the public.
By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- The city has a framework to address police and community relations, but officials stress it's an ongoing process.
City officials, representatives of minority groups and U.S. Justice Department officials started meeting last summer after the Justice Department said it received several calls from residents concerned about police and community relations.
The group released a letter of understanding at a breakfast meeting Wednesday. Earlier meetings were conducted behind closed doors to keep the number of participants at a manageable level, officials said.
"The city of Warren is being proactive and will continue to be proactive," Mayor Hank Angelo said.
He said one of the topics discussed in the meetings was differences in perception. Although police and city officials thought they had a clear procedure for people to file complaints with the police department, members of the groups involved with the meetings didn't understand the formal procedure that accompanies completing the complaint form.
Other meetings will be conducted, and Angelo challenged people at Wednesday's event to attend the next session and to bring another person along.
Scope of agreement
The agreement addresses hiring and recruitment practices, training, racial profiling, community policing and complaint procedures.
The city has tried to recruit women and minority police officers and firefighters but hasn't had much success, said Fred Harris, safety-service director. A committee is being formed to widen the recruitment efforts, which will encompass all of Northeast Ohio.
The city also aims to have all of the police department through a 24-hour cultural diversity and sensitivity training program by the end of this year. Training will include sections on understanding cultural differences and addressing racial profiling, according to the letter.
The Rev. Edgar Fisher, a member of the city's civil service commission who participated in the meetings, drew a contrast between the way Warren handled relations with the minority community and how a similar situation was addressed in Cincinnati.
A black man was shot and killed by police in Cincinnati more than a year ago. Black groups have launched protests and boycotts for what they view as the city's inattention to the problems. Conventions and events have been canceled because of the boycotts.
"They're losing money simply because they weren't willing to sit down with the community," the Rev. Mr. Fisher said of Cincinnati officials. "As a result of us coming together and being proactive, we began to come up with some kind of understanding that would benefit the city."
Both Mr. Fisher and Gustavo Gaynett, of the U.S. Justice Department's Community Relation Service, credited Police Chief John Mandopoulos for his cooperation in the process.
"I want to extend my gratitude to the police chief because he was under fire for a number of months," Gaynett said.
Mandopoulos said the complaint forms filed by residents were restructured, with meeting participants having input in the new structure. Complaints, which must be signed by the person filing them, are assigned to an internal affairs officer. The city also bought new police badges that include the officers' numbers so they may be identified.
The chief also said cameras that are being installed in some police cruisers would help when complaints are lodged.
"I feel really good about everything we've accomplished so far," Mandopoulos said.
Thomas Conley, president of the Warren-Trumbull County Urban League, said police officers are getting business cards that will include their name and badge number to give to residents who request them. He also said addressing problems is an ongoing process.
"It's a start," he said. "It's not the total remedy. There are still issues out there we need to address."